I’d hoped to have posted my impressions of Sony’s press conference much sooner, but events have conspired against me.  I suppose it’s for the best, since I have the benefit of hindsight now and I feel that I can be a bit more objective about what Sony had to offer. Did Sony “win” E3?  Was …

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1. Whether we like it or not, all things must eventually come to an end.  We’ve all had that experience where we’re reading a book that we love so much that we never want to put it down, or a song that we can’t stop listening to… but eventually we do, and we have to, because …

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I’ve always wondered who cheers and claps their hands and loudly yells “WOO!!!” during E3 keynote presentations; I’d been under the impression that they were press-only events, and even if “common folk” were allowed entry due to winning a contest, they’d still be outnumbered by the press by a wide margin. But, then again, here …

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It was revealed today that Rise of the Tomb Raider is not only coming to the Xbox One first, but is in fact being published by Microsoft outright, which more than likely precludes it from ever coming to the PS4 (though PC is not out of the question). I went on a big rant about …

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I’ve been trying to work on some more thoughtful and reflective pieces for the site, but this week’s been bananas, and who in their right mind wants to read my navel-gazing when there’s some serious game business to discuss? This week saw: the release of a South Park videogame that doesn’t suck; the announcement of …

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The Xbox180

June 20, 2013


Before I get into today’s post, I just want to congratulate Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek on breaking the story about the Xbox DRM policy reversal.  Say what you will about Giant Bomb’s cult of personality, but Klepek has been an ace reporter, a fount of knowledge, and my primary reason for tuning in to / putting up with the Bombcast every week.  His audio diary of this year’s E3 was arguably more interesting/informative than any other reporting I absorbed, and he deserves all the credit in the world for getting this story right.

And, so:  the morning after the backtrack heard ’round the world, I find myself still leaning in the PS4’s direction, even if I’m appreciative that Microsoft paid attention to the backlash and did something about it.   As I’ve said before, I was never particularly troubled about the always-online aspect of the Xbox One, because I’m fortunate enough to already have an always-on wi-fi in my apartment, and I don’t buy used games.  (It would’ve fucked up my Gamefly account, though, and that is a big deal.)

Still, my hesitance about the One is less about the online stuff and more about their very stubborn refusal to play ball with indie developers and self-publishers.  As I find myself increasingly turned off by AAA shooters, I find that the indie space is where the really neat stuff is happening – maybe the graphics aren’t as impressive, but the gameplay mechanics are more interesting, the narratives take real risks, and the overall experience is far more satisfying because it feels crafted by people who actually give a shit, and that means something to me.   It’s the exact opposite of the feeling I get about knowing that Ubisoft has 1,000 people all over the world slaving away at various Assassin’s Creed sequels that get shoved out the door every year.

Sony made a very big deal out of the indie space in their press conference, and some of the games shown in their little stage demo montage are the games I’m probably most looking forward to.   And the rockstars of the indie scene (Phil Fish, Jonathan Blow, to name a few) are very appreciative of what Sony is trying to do, as well as being increasingly frustrated with what Microsoft isn’t doing.

Here’s the deal:  I’m in a financial position where I could only afford one of the new consoles at launch – assuming that either console had a Day One launch lineup that was actually worth getting in on (and neither console is offering anything must-buy with launch, as far as I’m concerned).  Ultimately, my decision will depend on the following factors:

  • which console will have better exclusive titles?
  • which console will have the better version of a multi-platform title?
  • where will my friends be?

I’ve been a very happy 360 owner, even if I’m currently on my 4th 360 (which has been dying a slow death for a few months now).  And to be honest, I originally only bought a PS3 so that I could have a blu-ray player, once the blu-ray/HD-DVD format war was decided.  As it happens, I still think the 360 is the superior console of this current generation, and it’s certainly where I spent the bulk of my time; but I also must say that Sony’s 1st party library in the last few years has been the strongest by a pretty wide margin.   (Speaking of which, I’ll have more to say about Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us in a future post.)

Ultimately, it’s the games that matter.  It’s why I haven’t bought a Vita, or a WiiU (and it’s why I got rid of my Wii).  The PS4, right now, has a brighter future on the software front.  There’s still plenty of time left for things to change, of course, and Microsoft can still turn their ship around.  But they’ve got a lot of work to do on that front, and a lot of the work involved requires a radical rethinking of their business philosophies, and I’m not entirely sure how willing they are to do what needs to be done.

E3 2013: Nintendo and the morning after

June 11, 2013


As per usual, I missed most of the Nintendo briefing due to the day job.  The little I saw, though, didn’t interest me all that much – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I am not, nor have I ever been, a Nintendo fanboy.  I suppose I was hoping to see some new, exciting stuff for the 3DS, but from my vantage point Nintendo isn’t all that worried about the 3DS – it’s the WiiU that needs all the TLC it can get, and that’s what was mostly talked about this morning.  But, again, since I don’t particularly care about first-party Nintendo titles, and since I can realistically only afford one of the new consoles, I would’ve needed something tremendous and undeniably exciting in order to turn my head away from Sony.

Speaking of which.

The question for every E3, for the last however many years, has always ultimately boiled down to this:  “Who won?”  And for the most part, every console’s fans could make reasonable sounding arguments that their console won that particular year, and flame wars and impolite discourse would ensue, as per usual.  So it strikes me as highly unusual to see a clear, unambiguous, unanimously decided winner crowned even before E3 officially starts.  

What Sony managed to pull off last night was unprecedented.  They fired their shots with grace, tact and humility – and they did not miss.  And as much as I get confused by cheering audiences during what are supposed to be press-only events, the excitement in the room seemed genuine and sincere.  It’s not just that Sony delivered good news; it’s that they delivered the right news, at the right time, and completely owned the moment.  Twitter was exploding once those announcements started rolling out.   We all gasped as the former champion-turned-underdog delivered one knock-out punch after another.  And then, when they announced the $399 price, pretty much everybody wrote “Game Over” in their notebooks.

I did, in fact, go to sleep last night without pre-ordering a PS4, though I must admit I was dangerously close to doing so.  (I  even got as far as putting it in my Amazon cart and trying to figure out where I wanted it shipped.)   There’s still a lot (well, all) of E3 left, and I’d like to think there are some surprises left as far as console-exclusives are concerned.  So even if Sony has “won”, I’ve still not seen any games that I need to put on my must-play list.

And, again – even if Sony has won, I still can’t see myself committing to a purchase until I see how the multi-console development shakes out for third-party developers.   The biggest reason why Microsoft won this last generation, in my opinion, is because, by and large, 360 versions of multi-platform games looked and played better than their PS3 counterparts.  This is why Sony’s announcement of their new partnership with Bethesda took me utterly by surprise – PS3 owners got shafted with a piss-poor port of Skyrim, and I seem to recall Fallout 3 being somewhat inferior as well, and wasn’t there a lengthy delay between the 360 version of Oblivion and the PS3?  I probably spent over 250 hours in those 3 games alone on the 360.  So for the PS4 to be getting a console version of the Elder Scrolls MMO – as well as a console exclusive beta – well, that’s huge.  That’s Sony saying to Bethesda that they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that PS4 owners get the experience they’re pay for and expect to receive.

Now, on the other hand, it will be very interesting indeed to see how Microsoft answers, if at all.  Their messaging ever since the console reveal has been inconsistent, wishy-washy, and wildly tone-deaf to the consumer; the only thing that has been clear is that they are aiming to please publishers.  Nobody wants Kinect; even people who have Kinect (like me) don’t want it or use it.  The Xbox One will continue to be the primary home for multiplayer FPS games, and, so, good for those people.  They are a large audience, they will eat that shit up.  But there’s so much more that games are capable of, and Sony seemed hell-bent on letting us know that they are intent on courting developers of all sizes in an effort to make their library as diverse as possible.

Very much looking forward to the rest of the show – my RSS feed is exploding and I must get caught up!

E3 2013: Sony and the death of the Xbox One

June 10, 2013


Sweet Jesus, Sony just won E3.  It’s over.  Mic is dropped.  Microsoft is dead.

Even if the software lineup hadn’t been so spectacular – and it was – the 1-2 punch of the used games policy (i.e., they’re OK with it) and not needing a constant internet connection was utterly devastating.  PLUS the $399 price point?  BOOM.  Game, set, match.

Shit, they very nearly sold me on the Vita.  If they come out with a price cut or a bundle with the PS4, I’m in, no questions asked.

Let’s run down what they did cover, though – these are my hastily written notes (enhanced with my Twitter commentary):

Opening montage:

  • The Last of Us
  • Puppeteer (?)
  • Rain
  • Beyond
  • Gran Turismo 6

All known quantities, for the most part, except Puppeteer, which looked colorful and also a little forgettable.  Beyond remains enigmatic and weird; I want to like it, but I have no idea what the hell it is anymore.

Featured trailer

  • Batman Arkham Origins – a little nervous.  I mean, I’m happy to play more Batman, but that’s all this seems to be.

PS4 reveal:

  • it looks like an Xbox Rhombus.  This might be the most underwhelming part of the evening; the box looks a lot like the Xbox One, except tilted.
  • Sony Entertainment integration.  Why are they only getting around to this now?  Seems like a no-brainer.
  • new IP:  The Order (which is less “steampunk” and more “wildly and randomly anachronistic” – no gameplay)
  • Killzone: Crysis – er, ShadowFall
  • Drive Club – don’t quite know what this is, but as a PSPlus member, I get it for free!
  • Infamous Second Son – this looks great.  Big fan of the first game, underwhelmed by the second.  This looks like they took their time with it.
  • Knack – got a weird Kameo vibe from it.
  • Quantic Dream tech demo – “The Dark Sorcerer”
  • Supergiant’s Transistor, which continues to look great.

Indie montage – and this was so great to see:

  • Klei – Don’t Starve
  • Tribute Games – Mercenary Kings.
  • Young Horses – OctoDad
  • Secret Ponchos
  • Ray’s The Dead
  • Oddworld!  Lorne Lanning!
  • Galak-Z (some sort of side-scrolling open-world space shooter!  looks amazing)

Featured items:

  • Diablo 3 – PS3/PS4 – with exclusive items.  Meh.  I played the shit out of it on PC and don’t need to go there again.
  • Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now Final Fantasy XV and that trailer looked completely fucking insane.
  • new Kingdom Hearts.  Which is good for people who like Kingdom Hearts.  My deep-seated loathing of Disney makes it impossible for me, but whatever.
  • Assassin’s Creed 4 gameplay.  As I missed the Ubisoft presser, this was all new to me.  Still very wary of this franchise after the debacle of the last 2 games.
  • Watch_Dogs gameplay.  Looked great, as always.  (For some reason, when I was trying to recall the footage just now, I got it confused a little bit with that new Tom Clancy’s game, The Division, which also looks incredible.)
  • 2KSports NBA2K – hard to do a facial tech demo after that Quantic Dream “Dark Sorcerer” bit.

(Here’s where it started getting very, very interesting, and when Twitter started to explode.)

  • Elder Scrolls Online?!!  PS4 exclusive beta?
  • Mad Max (by the Just Cause devs)
  • Oh shit.  Used Games are OK.  Doesn’t need to be online.  SHOTS FIRED, DIRECT HIT.
  • World gameplay premiere of Bungie’s Destiny.  Halo + Borderlands = awesome.
  • $399?!!!

I need to sleep on this and process it.  Because if I don’t, I will pre-order a PS4 right now with money that I don’t actually have.

Well played, Sony.  Well played.  You just won the shit out of E3.

 

Backwards Compatibility

May 30, 2013


The Gameological Society has a brilliant column today in which the games industry is shooting itself in the foot by not embracing its past and enabling backwards compatibility on the next generation of consoles.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two arguments against backwards compatibility that make any sense:

  1. The technology and methodology required to make old software work on new/different hardware is too expensive to justify; and
  2. Old games – even the best of them – can look and feel incredibly dated.

I don’t know enough about #1 to make any sort of coherent argument for or against it; I’m probably only repeating it here since it’s pretty much what the console manufacturers have said about it.

#2 is something I can understand, I suppose.  If you play GTA3 right after playing GTA4, the differences between the two games are so profound that GTA3 becomes almost unplayable.  Similarly, while System Shock 2 might be an incredible game, it’s also incredibly archaic and unintuitive in terms of its mechanics; there’s a reason why those older games had lengthy tutorials that explicitly showed you how everything worked.

But to throw out an entire generation’s worth of content simply because the format has changed?

Imagine if you couldn’t listen to the Beatles anymore simply because the world had moved on from vinyl to CD and the record companies found it too cost-prohibitive to transfer their libraries over.   Or if movie companies decided that transferring VHS movies to DVD was, to paraphrase Microsoft’s Don Mattrick, “backwards-thinking”.

Here’s the key section from the GS article linked to above:

…Sony’s PlayStation 3 launched in 2006 with full backward compatibility for all previous PlayStation formats. PS2 compatibility was achieved through specialized hardware on the PS3 circuit board. 2008 saw the removal of PS2 compatibility from all future PS3 revisions as a cost-cutting measure, with a cheaper software-only solution being deemed [unfeasible] by Sony. Yet in 2011 Sony began selling PS2 games digitally on PS3. Hackers have since discovered that these games are running via a surprisingly robust backward compatibility solution that could be applied to old PS2 discs, but is not.

I have to surmise from all of this that backward compatibility for games would be possible but expensive. Sony and Microsoft could have been faced with a choice between two expensive forms of backward compatibility, and they chose to support one medium, video, but not the other, games.

This sends a clear message that these companies consider the medium of film and television to be more important than the medium of games. Why would two companies with such enormous investments in games make such a seemingly skewed judgment call? Well, they would probably argue that the culture has made it for them, by giving film and television pride of place in society, and relegating games as a lesser medium. And this may be the case. But when gaming’s industry leaders buy into that broader belief, it hurts the long-term health of the art form.

I hate to keep bringing up Red Dead Redemption – I feel like it’s been in every post I’ve written lately – but it’s a key example of the legacy we’d be losing without backwards compatibility.  I’ve been starting to work on my BEST GAMES OF THIS GENERATION post, and RDR is most likely right up at the top of my Top 10 list.  For me, RDR is Rockstar’s finest hour – a masterpiece top to bottom, and one of the finest games ever made.  And once the new consoles arrive, there will only be two ways I can continue to play it – either Rockstar re-releases it to work on the XB1 and the PS4 (which seems unlikely, given that they never even gave it a PC port), or I continue to hold on to my dying 360 and hope it doesn’t completely break (since I wouldn’t be able to replace it).

 

 

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